Tag Archive: animals


He was the runt of the litter.   His mother was a beauty queen with many prizes to her credit.

She had not been an enthusiastic participant in her mating with a much older dog at a distant kennel.  Her resentment had grown during her pregnancy and her owners had watched her very carefully during the whelping.  It was feared that she might decide to devour her puppies.

The thought might have crossed her mind, but she chose to just glare balefully at any human who came into sight.  Humans had betrayed her.  She, a prizewinning pedigree Pekinese bitch, who could trace her ancestors back to intimate companions to emperors, some of whom had even been suckled by the aristocratic ladies of the Court, had been humiliated.

She had been taken away from her territory, dumped unceremoniously into a strange room, and before she had had time to adjust to her new surroundings, That Dog had invaded her space.  And her person.  She had tried to refuse, both haughtily and very firmly, but it was his territory, so she had had to submit.  She could have fought him, but she was too frightened.  And bewildered.  Why had her humans done this to her?

The smell of him had lingered, even after her next shampoo.  It came back in waves.  Even now, after the birth of her puppies, she could still smell him.  Then there was The Runt.

He was much smaller than the others and she just knew that there was something wrong with him.  It wasn’t his size, nor the fact that his nose jutted out slightly – a hideous fault, which certainly didn’t come from her side.  (There was obviously bad blood in That Dog.)  It was something more subtle.  She couldn’t quite put her paw on it, but she knew that he shouldn’t be encouraged to live.

She tried to prevent him suckling.  Somehow, he managed to sneak to a teat while, exhausted, she was taking a well-earned nap.

After the puppies’ eyes had opened, humans started to visit the new mother.  They ooh-ed and ah-ed over the puppies – and ignored her completely.

Before her maternity, she had been the kennel’s star attraction.  Torn between indignation at being ignored and maternal pride, she decided that it was time to examine The Runt’s case more closely.

Apart from The Nose, everything about him was perfect show material.  His legs were beautifully bowed, his eyes bulged as they should, his socks were just the right height, his rusty markings were beautiful, his tail curled as it ought.  He was small of course, but the unavoidable defect was indubitably those few millimetres of Nose.  The perfect Pekinese nose is flat against the face, and this one wasn’t.

However, it wasn’t his physical appearance that repelled her.  It was something else.  A feeling.  He had to go.

She tried suffocation.  Pekinese jaws open to a surprising (and often very frightening) size.  She wrapped them around the runt’s neck and held her mouth shut.  She didn’t try to bite.  She just waited.  A kennel maid saw her and, with much shrieking, alerted the owners.  The Runt was removed from her jaws and she was accused of trying to bite off his head.  Which was quite untrue.  The time for eating him would have been at his birth.  It was much too late now.

She made a second attempt at suffocation a few days later, but was again thwarted.  After that, she was constantly watched, so she gave up trying to rid the world of her defective offspring.

***

My parents visited the kennel and were introduced to the now weaned Runt.  He had a very aristocratic pedigree name, but Daddy christened him Cheng with an acute accent on the “e”.  I don’t know why.  Was he trying to make the name sound French?  If so, why?  I don’t even know why he chose a Pekinese.  The only possible reason which comes to mind is that our next-door neighbours had a Pekinese.  An affable gentleman whose bulging eyes became completely blind and were further damaged by the poor old thing constantly running into things while roaring around the yard.  He was eventually helped to a merciful end.  However, when Cheng arrived home, our canine neighbour could still see and was very interested in the puppy next-door.

***

Cheng had been in our home for a few days and was poking his head into every cupboard he could reach, as soon as it was opened.  Mummy was kneeling in front of the open saucepan cupboard and Cheng’s head was inside.  Mummy sneezed.  The sound echoed through the cupboard and Cheng screeched, shot across the room, and cowered up against the wall, near the back door.  He was in the corner sitting on his backside with his front paws pawing the air.  Later, Mummy taught him to “clap hands” while in this position – a variation on this first pawing of the air.   However, he avoided going near the open saucepan cupboard again.

***

Cheng once appeared in a play.  I don’t remember the name of it, but the lady who carried him onstage (he was playing her lap-dog) was Miss Lorna Taylor.  I called her Auntie Lorna because, in our family, children did not address adults by their first names.  It was disrespectful.  Close family friends were given the honorary title of “aunt” or “uncle”.  Everyone else was Mr, Mrs or Miss.  We didn’t know any Lords, Ladies or knights at the time.

Cheng was usually taken home after his last scene in the play.  However, on the last night, he was allowed to take his curtain call with the rest of the cast.  Auntie Lorna carried him onstage and the audience applauded – and so did Cheng.  He sat up in Auntie Lorna’s arms and “clapped hands” with all his might.  The audience went wild.  It was his greatest moment.  He quite stole the curtain call from the other actors.

***

Cheng was my first dog and I loved him.  After a few years, he started biting anyone who entered his yard, including me.  He would come roaring down from the other end and fasten his teeth onto my calf.  I would drag him along with me as I walked.  Mummy was worried about it but, after he bit my face, his days with us were numbered.

For some time, he had been refusing to allow anyone to groom him and his long fur was matted.  We had bite marks on our hands from our attempts to even cut out some of the knots.

One day, I came home from school to find my mother in tears.  She had called the R.S.P.C.A. to take him away.  I thought that I would never forgive her.

She told me that, when the people had come for him, he had sat up and “clapped hands” for them.  The lady had said to Mummy, “How can you bear to part with him?”  Mummy had explained about the biting and refusal of grooming and recommended that they find a home for him without children.

***

It has been suggested that he might have suffered brain damage when his mother was trying to destroy him.  I now think that he could have been missing performing and was depressive.

***

I don’t know where he went.  I never saw him again.

I remember there being a photo of him onstage during his curtain call.  The photo was taken from the wings.  However, I haven’t been able to find it, and I don’t remember any other photos of him.

***

Night Visit

The following is a text that I wrote in French while I was living in France and have just translated into English.  This is the first time that it has been published in either language.  I wrote it the day after the incident.

***

30 July 2001, Anjou, France, 11:10 p.m.

The neighbours have sent their children to bed.  I can hear windows and shutters banging.

It is strange.  Their windows remain open all day, letting in the stifling air from outside, and they close them in the evening when it is a lot cooler.  I do the opposite.  Each to his own taste.

The window of my bathroom, an en suite to my bedroom, stays open all night.  It has solid bars, conceived to discourage any thief who might have had the laughable idea of trying to find something worth stealing in my apartment.

The bars, around ten centimetres apart, do let in quite a lot of visitors however.  Every morning, I remove the leftovers from the nocturnal meals of the two spiders who are comfortably installed in ambush in my bathroom.  They sort through the Unidentified Flying Objects which have had the audacity to penetrate my home while I am asleep.  I leave them there on purpose, as a first line of defence.

From time to time, I receive the visit of a big moth who has temporarily lost sight of the moon and, led astray by my bedside lamp, braves the bars and the spiders.

This evening, I am reading.  I am not yet in bed, but am sitting on it, with my back to the room.  Theoretically, I am immersed in Emile Zola’s La Debacle, but I am having trouble concentrating.  I can still hear the windows and shutters banging.

I am starting to have some auditory hallucinations.  I hear something fall in the bathroom.  I raise my head.  I listen.  Nothing.  Anyway, there is nothing susceptible of falling in the bathroom.  I go back to Zola.

I hear some sort of movement behind my head.  A big moth.  I see it out of the corner of my eye when it changes direction.

First thought:  its colour is very dark.

It passes behind my head again.  I bid it “Good evening!”  Yes, I talk to moths.  I know, I am crazy, but this is not the right moment to discuss that subject.  I raise my head to look at this nearly black moth.  I am wearing my reading glasses and am surrounded by an artistically out-of-focus decor.  The Flying Object has gone into the bathroom and makes a left-hand turn before plunging towards the bathtub.

Second thought:  it’s not a moth;  it’s a bird!  How did it manage to get through the bars?  I’m going to have fun trying to catch it to set it free!

Third thought:  it looked odd.  Why?  Its flight.  It’s not a bird!  It’s a bat!

Fourth thought:  what do I do now?  Help!

Interior Dialogue

“First of all, we must remain calm.  It’s a tiny, little bat from Anjou.  It’s nothing like the enormous vampires in South America.”

“Maybe.  But it’s in my bathroom!”

“That’s true.  It’s in your bathroom.  But it’s there by accident and it’s more than likely that it wants to be somewhere else.”

“Then why doesn’t it just go away?”

“It would already have done so if there weren’t any bars.  You’re going to have to help it.”

“I  don’t mind doing that, but firstly, it needs to know that I’m trying to help it and don’t want to hurt it.”

“Well, tell it that.”

“Yes, yes, of course!  I take an accelerated course in Ultra-Sounds, specializing in Bat!”

“Like all living things, it feels your thoughts.”

“In that case, it mustn’t be very confident at the moment.”

“So, you already have that in common.  In your opinion, who has the biggest problem?  You, or it?”

“All right.  But what is it going to do when I go into the bathroom?”

“If you were in its place, what would you do?”

“Huddle in a corner and pray.”

“So, that’s probably what it will do, too.”

“Bats pray?”

“Let’s stay on the subject.  In your bathroom, there is a living creature who is afraid and wants to leave.  You need to make it understand that you are going to help it and that it must trust you.”

“And all that through my thoughts.   A piece of cake!”

I put Zola and my glasses down on the bed and walk the metre and a half separating me from the bathroom, which is vaguely lit by the bedside lamp.

If we start with the premise that the very, very, very tiny-little-animal-hiding-somewhere-in-the-dark doesn’t like light very much, switching on the bathroom light would be a mistake.  Therefore, we won’t.

When last seen, this really-minuscule-little-thing was plunging towards the bathtub, fortunately white, and has not made the slightest sound since.

Different things decorate the top of my bathtub:  among them, my toothbrush and the toothpaste;  the latter in the form of a little plastic bottle.  Between the two, there is something dark-coloured.  It is not moving.

Right.  Let us say that it is the bat.  How am I going to take hold of it?  This is my first bat rescue.  Let us do the same thing as for wasps and bees:  a clean cloth.

I explain, out loud, that I am going to fetch something to help it out of there.  It listens to me attentively and does not move.

I find a tea-towel in smooth cotton, in which the bat would not risk getting stuck.  I return to the bathroom.

I explain to it that I am going to take away the tooth-brush that is just in front of it.  Which I do.  The bat does not move.

It has magnificent ears – all rounded.  What a pity that I can’t turn on the light to see it better.  Naturally, I can’t take a photo of it, either.

I can’t see it very clearly and am very surprised when, after having told it what I was going to do, I pick up the bottle of toothpaste.  It is clinging to it.

I start to put it down again, then decide to try to pass it like that between the bars.

Despite its immobility, its nerves must be very taut.  They snap, and it lets go of the toothpaste.

I put down the bottle and tell it that I am going to try to take it with the tea-towel, but that I would have preferred that it were turned the other way.  It seems to understand and begins to turn around.  I am astounded.

It slips on the enamel and spreads its wings to land in the bathtub.  I can see it a lot better.  It is very beautiful.

Now, it is turned the right way around, but its wings must be folded.  It does not agree with this.

It tries to fly onto the edge of the bathtub, but does not have enough room for take-off.  It slips.  It can’t hold on.  It tries again.  This time, I understand.

I hold out the tea-towel and it grips the side of it.  I lift them both slowly.  The bat folds its wings and I pass the tea-towel between the bars.  The bat is outside.  We look at each other.  It does not fly away, but I am absolutely certain that it knows that it is free.  These few seconds during which it remains clinging to my tea-towel, looking at me, are a gift that it is giving me.

“Go!”, I tell it.  The bat unfolds its wings, holds on for another instant, then takes off into the dark.  I bring in the empty tea-towel.

I feel a bit uneasy.  This bat has greatly troubled me.  I have the impression that I have been dealing with a being of an intelligence that is equal, if not superior, to mine.  Different, of course, but not inferior.  I feel very humble.  I am not sure that I like this feeling.

In my bedroom, I look at the time:  11:20 p.m.  The last three hours have taken only ten minutes.  Apparently, that is what is known as Relativity.

I go to bed.  I am exhausted.  I wonder what the bathroom spiders think of it all.  I shall have to ask them tomorrow.

***

Presence

Today, I have decided to post a poem that I wrote in 2004.  It was originally in French and came third in a competition whose theme was “friendship”.  I subsequently translated it into English and re-worked it a bit.  The second version was published in an anthology in the United States of America in 2006.

I have typed the French version, printed it, added the accents, scanned it and inserted it below.  The English version is underneath the French one.

Its French title was “La Consolatrice”.  I have changed the title in English.

I prefer the French version of this poem because it is more sensual and suits the subject better.

The English version was baptized a “prose-poem” by an American expert.  It was the first time that I had ever heard of this style of poetry.

***

Presence

***

Sleek, supple, black coat shining,

She steps gracefully across the Chinese rug,

Skirts a floor-cushion, then pauses near the sofa,

Her green eyes anxious, questioning.

***

The seated man holds an opened letter in his left hand.

His stunned gaze travels around the sun-drenched room,

Seeking something … or someone.

She can feel his suffering.  It worries her.

***

Spicy perfume, from yellow roses on the coffee table,

Tickles her nose.  She sneezes.

The man extends an approximate hand.

She moves closer, meeting his caress.

***

The man speaks.  She doesn’t understand the words

But leaps lightly onto his lap.  He takes her in his arms,

Lays his cheek against her velvet head.

A salty drop, landing on her tiny nose, startles her.

She tastes it, then snuggles down and starts to purr.

***

Heather, aged 15, with her 13 year old sister.

Auntie Heather was born on 6 October 1918.  Her mother and father, my grandparents, had been courting for six years when they finally married on 5 January 1918.  This was because Pa (short for Papa, later for Grandpa) refused to marry while the other men were away at war.

Grandma had very nearly stood him up on their first “appointment” as she called their dates.  She had confided to a work colleague that she wasn’t really attracted to him and thought that she wouldn’t go.  Her colleague had encouraged her to meet him, saying “You never know, you might like him.”  Much later, she had confessed this hesitation to her husband, who had replied, “I knew where you lived!”

During the First World War, Australia’s soldiers were all volunteers.  Pa had volunteered but, although he passed muster on height and chest measurement, his request had been refused.  He wouldn’t say why.  Later, when the War dragged on and thousands of men were being killed or wounded, height and chest measurements were lowered and Pa thought that he might be accepted this time.  He was refused for the second time.  Grandma used to say that men who had volunteered and been refused should have been given some sort of badge to wear so that they didn’t receive dirty looks from passers-by in the street.  Pa played sport and looked like a strapping young man who just didn’t want to go to war.  After his death, Grandma found his application papers with CARDIAC written across them in red.

Heather at the beach.

So Grandma, who, at the age of sixteen had refused her first offer of marriage, finally had to wait until she was twenty-nine before being able to tie the knot.  Pa was thirty-five.

Their first child was born nine months and one day after the wedding, at home with the assistance of a midwife.  Grandma’s pregnancy had been a bit rough and so had the birth, but mother and daughter were doing well, even if both were very tired after the ordeal.  Grandma managed to say to the midwife, “I just saved my good name!”  To which the midwife snapped, “You would have saved your good name if she had been born three weeks ago!”

While Grandma was still weak, one of her husband’s aunts paid her a visit and enquired about the baby’s name.  Grandma replied that she was to be christened “Brenda”.  The aunt exclaimed, “Brenda!  Brenda!  Brindle!  Brindle cow!  If you call her Brenda, I’ll call her ‘Cowie'”  So Grandma, in her weakened state, agreed to change the name, and my aunt was named Heather Catherine.  Relatives sent white heather to her from Scotland the Brave.

Heather with her future husband.

When Grandma had recovered sufficiently to go for a walk with her baby in the perambulator (later shortened to “pram”) “an old biddy up the street” (Grandma’s words)  admired the little one, then proceeded to say insinuatingly, “My daughter had her baby one year after her wedding!”  Grandma rose to her full height of five feet two inches and replied icily, “Well, my daughter was born nine months and one day after my wedding!”  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The little girl had her mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes but her features were those of her father.  Later, a dark-haired hazel-green eyed sister came along and Pa, who would have loved to have fathered a son, refused to allow Grandma to risk her life a third time to try to have a boy.

Heather with her father and mother on her wedding day.

The girls grew up in a two-bedroom brick house, with a dog and an enormous aviary in the backyard.  The birds were Pa’s but the dog was everyone’s.  She was a black Pomeranian who loved to taunt the biggest dogs she could find on her walks, then, when chased by them, leap into Grandma’s arms and let her deal with them.  Grandma was not amused by this.  She wasn’t afraid of dogs, but an angry German Shepherd, still being insulted by the black curly bundle in her arms, was not a reassuring encounter.

The girls shared a bedroom and this arrangement displayed its limitations when the younger of the two went into a depression (known as a nervous breakdown then) and piled all the blame for her state on her sister Heather, who was twenty years old at the time.  Not only did young Heather have to assume the burden of her mentally ill sister at this time, the antagonism lasted for the rest of their lives.  Her sister continued to systematically blame her for everything that had gone wrong with her life and eventually stopped talking to her.  At the same time she did everything that she could to try to turn the rest of the family against her.  Fortunately, not always successfully.  Auntie Heather maintained a dignified silence through it all.

The family (left to right) Heather’s sister (my mother), me at 14, Grandma, Heather’s husband, her daughter at 10, and Heather.

Despite these problems, which hadn’t yet reached complete maturity when I was born, Auntie Heather became one of my godmothers.  She was consulted, including by her sister, my mother, for questions concerning the correct way to dress for a particular event.  The sisters even collaborated as a medical first-aid team during the Second World War.  Auntie Heather always knew what the text-book said to do and my mother always knew how to do it.  Things didn’t go as well when they tried to reverse the roles.  The whole family was on first-aid alert duty on the night that the Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour.  The siren was at the end of the street, a few houses away.  On the bus, on their way to work the next morning, the girls thought that people were joking when they heard them talking about the attack and the siren going off.  They had slept through the whole thing and could have been fined for it.

Same people, different places. We’re all a bit older.

Auntie Heather was the matriarch of the family.  She outlived her parents, her younger sister, her husband (a high-ranking Free Mason) and her only child, my cousin.  She died last Friday, 29 June, and will be cremated tomorrow, 4 July 2012, in Sydney.

She is survived by her four grandchildren and her son-in-law, but I am the only one left who knew her when she was a young woman.  Which is why I have written this.  All of the people in these photos, except for me, are now deceased.

The Devil’s Footprints

The strange beings who people our folklore could perhaps be inspired by real events, like the one that occurred in Devonshire in 1855.

It is 7 February 1855.  The whole of England’s South-West has been swept since morning by an appalling tempest.  Wind of unheard-of violence is uprooting trees, taking off roofs, blowing down belfries and ripping out gravestones in the cemeteries, leaving tombs open and coffins scattered.

Barricaded inside their houses, the inhabitants of Devonshire are terrified.  Some would later say:

“It was an infernal night, the wind was screaming like a thousand witches…”

Suddenly, around five o’clock in the morning, the wind calms, the noise stops and snow begins to fall heavily.

This silence, after the torment, worries all who have not slept a wink that night.  One of them would say,

“We had the impression that there was some sort of threat hovering…  With my wife who was trembling with fear huddled against me, we were afraid of something supernatural.  Everything was really strange that night.”

It is in Blayford that it all unfolds.

Around six o’clock, a high-pitched, terrifying howl suddenly erupts near the village.  A dog’s howl which is heard for about a kilometre all around.  The good people huddle under their eiderdowns.  Then, once again, there is silence.

Around eight o’clock, Dawn breaks and the inhabitants of Blayford fearfully open their shutters.  Snow is no longer falling, but the countryside is all white.  Many times, the villagers of the little English town have seen this spectacle upon rising and they have always found something marvellous about it.  Today, inexplicably, they feel anguish.  A woman, unable to clearly explain her unease, would say:

“Bad luck seemed to be floating over us…”

Despite this, that same morning, a farm hand goes to have a look around to see the damage caused by the tempest.  He then notices some strange footprints.  Footprints of a kind that he has never seen and which correspond to no known animal in the region.  They look like a little horse-hoof and pierce the snow with mathematical regularity.  The farm hand, very intrigued, follows them across the fields and soon arrives beside the tattered remains of the dog who had howled so atrociously in the early hours of the morning.

He bends over it and notices, stunned,

“that the poor animal had died from wounds which could not have been made by either a man or a beast”…

He runs back to alert the village, saying:

“Come and see!  There are some strange footprints.”

The inhabitants of Blayford rush out and see that the farm hand has not lied.

Further, at that same moment, throughout the whole of Devonshire, peasants are discovering the same footprints in the fresh snow.

They extend over more than 160 kilometres.

The journalists of the County of course write about the phenomenon, remarking that the footprints, which are like dots on rigorously straight lines, each measures ten centimetres in length by seven centimetres in width, and that they are very regularly twenty-five centimetres apart…  One journalist writes:

“These footprints don’t stop anywhere.  Whatever it was, the unknown creature walked on hooves in short, leaping steps, in an inexplicable fashion without stopping nor resting, and it covered here more than thirty kilometres during the tragic night of 7 February, crossing rivers, climbing the walls of several houses and walking on the roofs before finally arriving at the little village cemetery without daring to enter it…”

Zoologists soon come from London to examine these strange prints which remain visible in the frozen snow.  None of them manages to identify the animal who had travelled all over South-East England – always in a straight line.

The mysterious “Devil’s Footprints”, drawn by a witness and published in “The Illustrated London News” on 24 February 1855.

One of them writes a few days later in the Illustrated London News:

“This mysterious visitor generally only passed once down or across each garden or courtyard, and did so in nearly all the houses in many parts of the several towns above mentioned, as also in the farms scattered about;  this regular track passing in some instances over the roofs of houses, and hayricks, and very high walls (one fourteen feet [4.50 metres]), without displacing the snow on either side or altering the distance between the feet, and passing on as if the wall had not been any impediment.  The gardens with high fences or walls, and gates locked, were equally visited as those open and unprotected.”

Another notes that

“two inhabitants of one community followed a line of prints for three and a half hours, passing under rows of redcurrant bushes and fruit trees in espaliers;  losing the prints and finding them again on the roof of houses to which their search had led them”.

Farther on, he adds that these prints

“passed through a circular opening of about thirty centimetres in diameter and inside a drain of 15 cm;  finally, they crossed an estuary around 3,500 kilometres wide”…

A third writes:

“These footprints are strange, for the snow is completely removed, as if it has been cut by a diamond or marked by a red-hot iron…”

Naturally, many hypotheses are emitted by both journalists and scholars who study the case.  Some are extravagant.  Someone suggests that these strange marks could have been made

“by a balloon dragging its tethering ring at the end of a rope”.

But this explanation appears absurd.  How could a metal ring tear apart the Blayford dog;  and by what miracle could this ring, attached to a balloon blown by the wind, leave perfect prints, disposed in a straight line and regularly distanced at 25 centimetres?…

A journalist suggests that it could be marks left by a kangaroo who had escaped from a menagerie.  The zoologists reply that it is extremely rare that kangaroos leap on only one leg, and that they haven’t any hooves, anyway…

Other investigators try to explain the presence of these marks by an atmospheric phenomenon.  It is pertinently replied that no-one had ever yet seen an atmospheric phenomenon leave hoof-prints…

Finally, none of the hypotheses emitted having been retained, the newspapers publish the embarrassed words of zoologists, physicists and meteorologists.  One of them, Doctor Williamson, goes as far as writing this:

“These millions of prints constitute an absolute enigma.  Neither a man, nor an animal, nor a machine is capable of leaving such marks.  This phenomenon is inexplicable.  Consequently, the best thing, in my opinion, is to forget it.”

A surprising declaration, coming from a scholar.

But the Devonshire peasants do not forget, and they give a name to these mysterious marks:  they call them The Devil’s Footprints…  A name that is not very scientific of course, but which still remains.  And it is by this name that Historians continue to designate them today…

***

Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, consulted the English Press of the epoch and was able to note that, for two months, February and March 1855, all of the English newspapers published articles, investigations, interviews and sketches on what was called at the time the “mysterious Devonshire holes”.  He adds that a number of authors have studied this case.  Charles Fort, who called himself an “amateur of the unusual and scribe of miracles”, consecrated a chapter of his Book of the Damned to them, as did Jacques Bergier and the Info group in Le Livre de l’Inexplicable

***

They give no explanation and only emit hypotheses.  Some speak of sea birds, hailstones, field-mice.  But there is no bird, nor field-mouse whose feet end in hooves.  As for hailstones, has anyone ever seen any fall in a straight line, twenty-five centimetres apart?…  A modern author had another idea:  he suggested that these marks could have been left by an extra-terrestrial who landed from a space-ship…  Guy Breton says that he is not hostile a priori to this kind of explanation, but that this person would have had a strange way of walking.  On top of which, he must have been very small to have been able to pass through openings of a diameter of thirty centimetres…

***

So, we come back to Charles Fort’s explanation.  He said with humour:

“These prints could only have been made by a thousand one-legged kangaroos wearing a very small horseshoe…”

In other words, we don’t know.

***

There have been some absolutely identical marks left in Scotland in 1839, in the Kerguelen Islands in 1840, in the United States in 1908, in Belgium in 1945 and in Brazil in 1954…  So, you see, the Devil walks around his estates.  After all, he is called the Prince of this World…

***

It’s Friday Fictioneers time again.  I’m in Australia, so it might still be Thursday where you are.

The story should be 100 words if possible – mine is – and a link to it should be posted in the Comments Section on the following page:  http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com/flash-fiction/vertigo so there will be plenty of other 100 word stories only a click away.

Here is the photo prompt and my story:

He lies on a heavy bough, surveying the waving grass.  His sable coat makes him more efficient at night, but hunger has drawn him from his den in full daylight.  Age has been hampering him more and more lately.  This time, he has killed, and his half-eaten prey hangs beside him.  It should be safe here.

It is time to return to the darkness of his den.  As he rises to his feet, something strange in the sky catches his eye.  He backs away from it along the branch, then drops to the ground, where a startled serpent suddenly strikes…

“What animal does this come from?”

Teacher says that meat comes from animals and I’m testing the story.  Daddy’s mouth is full, so Mummy answers.

“Bull.”

Daddy swallows so fast he almost chokes.

“Bullock.  Not bull.  Bullock.”

There’s silence, while I finish my mouthful.  I’m not allowed to talk until my mouth’s empty.

“What’s a bullock?”

Mummy makes a weird little bow over the table, with a big smile on her face.  She wants Daddy to answer.

Mummy had set my hair with butterfly clips. I hated it, and Daddy insisted on taking my photo.

Daddy goes into one of his long speeches, while Mummy and I continue dinner.  Mummy’s having trouble with hers.  I think she’s trying not to laugh.  Why?

Daddy’s talking about bees and flowers and seeds.  Then he switches to birds and eggs.  It’s all very interesting of course, but so far, there’s nothing about bullocks.  I’ve eaten all my vegetables and have almost finished my meat.  Are we going to have ice-cream?

I must have missed a bit of Daddy’s speech because now he’s talking about puppies and kittens.  Mummy’s shoulders are shaking.  She takes a handkerchief out of her pocket and wipes her eyes.  She’s crying?  Have I done something wrong?

Daddy’s onto lambs and calves.  Mummy goes to the ice-chest and takes out the ice-cream.  Goody!  Ice-cream!

Daddy’s stopped talking and is trying to eat his now cold dinner.  He doesn’t like it.

It’s true that I didn’t hear absolutely every word he said, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t mention bullocks.  I wait until he pushes away his plate.  He seems to have finished with the animals.  Has he forgotten the question?  I decide to remind him.

“Yes, but what’s a bullock?”

Mummy dumps the ice-cream and rushes out of the room.  Is she sick?  She’s making funny noises down the hall.

I don’t remember what happened after that.

***

Some years later, when I am in my early teens, Mummy and I go to Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.  Farmers have come to the big city to show their animals and compete for prizes, and we are having trouble moving through the throng.  The crowd parts slightly and an enormous creature comes into view.

“Mummy, look at the size of that bull!”

A farmer in front of us turns his head.  Mummy, bright pink, mutters,

“It’s a bullock.”

I look from her to the grinning farmer and back again.

“Oh…  What’s a bullock?”

The farmer’s grin broadens.  Mummy, now deep purple, snarls in a low voice,

“I’ll tell you when we get home!”

I don’t think she did.

***

Esquisse de deux amis

George Weaver from She Kept a Parrot, a WordPress blog that can be found in my Blogroll, wants me to translate a poem, Esquisse de deux amis, which won a prize in France.  It does not translate well into English.

Another poem of mine, which was originally attempted in English and abandoned because it sounded “mushy” to me, was re-written in French and came out very well because French suited it better.  The poem was called Clair de lune and went on to be highly-rated in a poetry competition at the prestigious Salon Orange in Champagne, so the language chosen for a particular subject, or a particular style, is often very important.

As the following poem sounds very jerky in English, when it should be flowing, with quiet pauses, I was reluctant to display it online.  However, as George was insistent, I decided to scan the original French version which appeared in the Municipal Bulletin with a quote about it from a local newspaper, and include it with the translation.  All complaints should be addressed to George.

The reason that the poem was written concerns another insistent person, Pascal, who harassed me until I wrote something about him and his dog Junior.  The original version was longer and included their names.  It also had a different mood about it.  However, as the entries in the competition had to be limited to twenty lines, the mood changed when I deleted the lines down to twenty.  Pascal and Junior visited me every day while I was working as Guide to a mediaeval castle in 2002.  He sent the long version of the poem to his father, so I felt obliged to give him the shorter, calligraphed, framed version that I had done for an Art show, when I left France to come back to Australia.

Pouance Infos Numero 76 Juin 2003

 

Esquisse de deux amis

(translation)

They resemble each other a lot.

They both have long, lean bodies.

The short one loves food, the tall one is more a gourmet.

How do they manage to stay slim?

 

Neither one nor the other smokes cigarettes or drinks alcohol.

Both have sparkling eyes and narrow, pointed faces.

They like other people a lot and mutually adore each other.

 

They take their meals together, watch television together.

They sleep together and both of them snore.

They separate only for work.

The tall one leaves to earn their living.

The short one stays in bed.

 

It’s because they belong to two different races.

The tall one has two legs, the short one has four.

They have been living together for more than ten years.

 

The master, a bit hunched over, takes long paces, with an absent air.

The dog stops, reads a message left by another canine, leaves a reply in return.

The master waits patiently for him to finish.

They set off again, turn the corner and are out of sight.

A man and his dog – my friends.

 

As proof that this poem really did win something (a painting by Dominique Guedon to be precise) the following is the complete article about the prize-winning poems.  I was not there, having received my letter on the day that the article appeared, so I am not in either of the photos.

Having just re-read the article, I am reminded that another of my poems, in another category, came second ex-aequo.  I’d completely forgotten about that one.

Don’t forget:  all complaints and criticisms are to be addressed to George Weaver.  This post is all her fault.

Courrier de l'Ouest du lundi 24 mars 2003.

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1886.

Pasteur’s first scientific contact with rabies dates from 11 December 1880:  a contaminated child is signalled at Sainte-Eugenie Hospital.  He looks for the microbe in the child’s saliva, but doesn’t find it.  Disappointed, he hands his test-tubes over to Doctor Roux who is testing attentuation techniques, while he himself continues to work on the virulence idea.  The experiments are high-risk for the scholars, the danger of contamination is everywhere, witness this scene:  one day, Pasteur has a rabid dog brought to him, wanting to take a saliva sample from it.  Two assistants take the frothing bulldog out of an iron cage, they throw a rope with a sliding knot around its neck and pick it up.  The dog which is struggling, furious, is stretched out on a table, its partly muzzled jaw slightly open.  The assistants hold the rabid dog still while Pasteur, a slim glass tube between his lips, his head leaning over the dog’s muzzle, sucks a few drops of frothy saliva into the tube.  The experiment is useless:  trial after trial, Pasteur determines that the saliva secretions of the dogs are not virulent enough, and that the microbe, after incubation in its victim’s body, becomes localised in the marrow of the spine.  More samples need to be taken.  Doctor Roux’ niece, Mary Cressac, reports:

“Roux, Chamberland and Thuillier are all leaning over the table.  If the animal gives them a jolt, if one of them cuts himself with his scalpel, if one little piece of rabid marrow penetrates the wound, then it would have been the perspective of weeks of anguishedly asking:  will rabies declare itself or not?  At the beginning of each seance, a loaded revolver was placed within reach…  if something unfortunate occurred to one of the three, the one of the other two with the most courage would shoot him in the head…”

Excessive dramatisation?  Probably not:  the unfortunate Thuillier, aged twenty-six, would be struck down by cholera in Alexandria, while accompanying a French Mission charged with studying the epidemic of this illness in Egypt.  Had he neglected a few of the prescriptions that Pasteur had written down for him before the Mission’s departure, or had they been found to have been too exaggerated because they were so minutious?  Whatever happened, the young man died within forty-eight hours, despite the presence at his side of Roux and a battalion of French and Italian Doctors who treated him until the end.  Doctor Koch, who was also in Alexandria, nailed two wreaths on the coffin, saying:

“They are modest, but they are of laurier;  they are those given to the glorious.”

Roux puts together a protocol.  With potassium, he dries the spinal marrow of rabbits contaminated with rabies, suspended in glass bottles.  The technique is efficient.  An infected marrow dried in this position for fourteen days becomes inactive.  Extracts of spinal marrow dried for fourteen, then for thirteen, then for eleven days are injected into dogs and produce in them a state that is refractory to the illness, which is confirmed by a last injection of virulent marrow, which has then become without danger for the animal.  Experiments on a big scale have to be done…  This means money.  Pasteur asks for the meeting of a Commission from the Ministry of Instruction.  After enquiry, this Commission considers that Pasteur’s laboratory at the Ecole normale has become “master of the refractory state”;  which means that the animals vaccinated by the contaminated marrow of rabbits have all become refractory to rabies.  A former property of the Imperial Family, at Villeneuve-l’Etang, to the West of Paris, is bought by the State and affected to Pasteur and his team to perform experiments on a greater scale.  Packs of rabid and healthy dogs are brought there from the Pound and locked up in the former stables, transformed into kennels by the Scientists.  Day and night, the animals’ whining and barking can be heard, which creates some conflict with the neighbours, who are worried about the presence of rabid guard dogs.  The scholar and his team move in, basic repairs are made in the Commons.  A Financier who is passing through would say, astounded by the Spartan installation:

“It’s not the comfort that is going to get in your way”.

Pasteur pursues two series of experiments in parallel on one hundred and twenty-five dogs.  The first consists in making preventive innoculations to render the dogs refractory to rabies, the second is to prevent rabies from erupting in dogs which have been bitten or innoculated.  The results are way beyond the scholar’s expectations.  He knows that he is on the right path, but he doesn’t know how his procedure “functions”.  During a seance of the Academie francaise where work is being done on the dictionary, Pasteur, entirely absorbed by his subject, is not listening and scribbles on a paper that has come into his hand:

“I am led to believe that the rabies virus must be accompanied by a matter which, by impregnating the nervous system, makes it improper for the culture of the figured microbe.  From there, vaccinal immunity.  If this is so, the theory could well be very general.  This would be an immense discovery.”

One point is however established:  preventive innoculation.  But the months pass by without him being able to understand how the antirabies vaccination works.

***

One Monday morning, 6 July 1885, he sees arriving in his laboratory a little boy from Alsace, aged nine, Joseph Meister, bitten two days before by a rabid dog.  His mother is with him.  She tells him all about the accident.  Her child was going alone to school on a little pathway when a dog leaped onto him.  Knocked down, incapable of defending himself, the child only thought to cover his face with his hands.  A mason, who had seen from a distance what was happening, rushed over, armed with an iron bar, and obliged the furious dog to let go by hitting it repeatedly, then he had lifted up the little Meister covered in saliva and blood.  The dog went home to its master, the grocer Theodore Vone, and bit him, without however its teeth succeeding in penetrating his clothes.  The grocer killed the dog by shooting it.  The autopsy revealed that its stomach was filled with hay, straw, pieces of wood.  Doctor Weber, from Vulle, after having cauterized the wounds with phenol, advised the Meisters to take the train to Paris.

To be continued.

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) in 1886.

In 1896, Emile Duclaux would comment:

“To everybody’s surprise, even Pasteur’s, almost all of these chickens (vaccinated) would resist, while the new chickens coming from the market would succumb […]  What spirit of divination prodded Pasteur to knock at this door which was asking only to be opened?”

Pasteur in fact again finds the effects of the ageing of the illness already noted in the corpuscules of the silkworm, and he again sees as well the story of Jenner:  in 1796, Edward Jenner had innoculated Man with a cow illness, vaccine, thereby preserving him from smallpox.  But between Jenner and Pasteur, there had been the discovery of microbes.  Further, with the chickens of Summer 1879, an unexpected and very important phenomenon was appearing in the course of the manipulation:  resistance to virulence.  This new fact initiates for Pasteur and his pupils a study programme, that of the virus-vaccines.

The second act takes place at Maison-Alfort.  During the researches on chicken cholera, those on anthrax continue.  If the guinea pig is a living reservoir transporting chicken cholera, the scholar determines that it is the earthworms which, in the countryside, play this role for anthrax.  By bringing soil to the surface, they bring the germs of animals who have died from anthrax and have been buried in the pastures by the peasants.  The healthy animals then graze on grass mixed with germs and in turn perish.  It is again Doctor Toussaint who sets off the researches of Pasteur and his pupils.  Toussaint announces that he has succeeded in vaccinating sheep thanks to a culture of anthrax submitted to heat.  Pasteur asks the Minister of Agriculture for the authorisation to make some tests on Toussaint’s vaccinating liquid at the Ecole veterinaire in Maison-Alfort:  it is a failure, the innoculated sheep all die.  The attenuation obtained by Toussaint is very real, but not definitive, the anthrax microbe, momentarily weakened, had become virulent again.  However, it is the right direction, and the team begins laboratory trials.  It finds the temperature and the limit of the length for attenuating the virulence of the bacteria, without removing from them a certain possibility for multiplying.  At the Academie, on Monday 28 February 1881, Chamberland, Roux and Pasteur co-sign a communication on the anthrax vaccine and the whole table of virulences.

The third act then takes place in the country, at Pouilly-le-Fort, near Melun.  This time, Pasteur is directing the play.  Hippolyte Rossignol, Veterinary Surgeon, suggests a farm as the place of action.  The actors will be sheep.  Rossignol has taken care of everything:  contacts have been made with the local aediles, with the Societe d’Agriculture in Melun.  This Society is presided by the Baron de La Rochette, a friend of the Sciences, and it has been placed at the disposition of the scholar and his team along with its flock of sixty sheep.  Senators, conseillers generaux, Farmers, Veterinary Surgeons, Medical Doctors are all there.  The Press too has been invited.  Pasteur writes the programme of the day, a great number of copies of which are distributed.  Certain sheep are to be vaccinated, others not, and it will be predicted to the audience right to the last sheep how many will die when they are later put in contact with the anthrax microbe!  The preliminary experiments in the laboratory and in Alfort have been rehearsals, but certain colleagues have not been convinced.  The Scientist wants to strike hard, take risks, and cover in ridicule his adversaries, like Colin.  Further, there is suspense:  the injections are made on 5 May 1881, the results will only be known on 2 June.  They return to Paris.  On 2 June 1881, before leaving for Pouilly-le-Fort, the Master writes to his disciples:

“Last Tuesday, we innoculated all the sheep, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, with very virulent anthrax.  And the telegramme (from Rossignol) announces that, when we arrive today at two o’clock, all of the unvaccinated ones will be dead.  As for the vaccinated ones, they are all standing.  The telegramme ends with the words:  stunning success.  There is joy in the laboratory and at home.  Rejoice my dear children.”

But a vaccinated ewe dies on 4 June.  Is this a defeat?  No, the autopsy shows that the death was provoked by that of the foetus that the ewe was carrying.

The curtain falls, Pasteur can bow to the public.  The experiments of Pouilly-le-Fort will resound prodigiously.  Henry Bouley, from La Revue Scientifique, will write:

“Pouilly-le-Fort, as famous today as all the great battlefields, where Monsieur Pasteur, a new Apollo, did not fear to launch oracles, more certain of success that the God of Poetry could ever be.”

***

Among his childhood memories, Pasteur counted a terrible one.  The event went back to the month of October 1831.  Terror was spreading throughout the Jura because of a rabid wolf which was biting animals and people along its route.  The people bitten on their hands and heads were succumbing to rabies, with atrocious suffering.  In the Communes of Villers-Farlay, Ecleux and Mouchard alone, there had been eight victims.  The young Louis had seen cauterized with a red-hot iron, in the forge situated a few metres from his father’s house, the wounds of an inhabitant of Arbois named Nicole, who had been attacked by the wolf.  Nicole had not survived.

For years, the fear of this rabid wolf survived throughout the whole region.  This ill was reputed incurable, and, on top of that, the patient bitten by an animal was often finished off by members of his or her own family.  In 1810, a Philosopher had asked the Government to adopt the following Law:

“It is forbidden, on pain of death, to strangle, suffocate, bleed from all four members, or in any other way cause the death of an individual suffering from rabies…”

In 1816, only fifteen years before Pasteur had seen the blacksmith’s red-hot poker burn Nicole’s flesh, the newspapers were recounting the death of an unfortunate rabies sufferer suffocated between two mattresses.  On the subject of this mercy killing, they were saying in the Press of the epoch:

“So it is the duty of the Doctor to repeat that this illness cannot be transmitted from human to human, and that there is no danger in caring for those suffering from it.”

Some people who had been bitten by rabid dogs were submitted to the bite of a viper to try to neutralize the virus.  A cruel and useless ordeal.

To be continued.

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